The early childhood investments included in President Biden’s American Families Plan have the potential to be transformative for America’s children, families and child care providers. The United States has long lagged other developed countries in our investments in families and children, particularly our youngest children. The American Families Plan has the potential to move us forward, at last.
In Washington State, our child care and early learning system has invested for years in a robust quality improvement program so that licensed child care programs deliver what many used to consider separate “preschool” services. In quality child care programs, play-based early learning happens every day, all day, so that parents and guardians can work while their youngest children are safe and learning in nurturing environments.
Child Care Aware of Washington urges the Biden administration to consider that traditional preschool that operates only a few hours per day will not meet the needs of a majority of American families, most of whom have all adults working. Working families need quality, reliable, full-day, year-round child care in their communities that emphasizes early childhood education and social-emotional learning.
We highly recommend that full-day, full year universal preschool options should be offered through the existing licensed child care system. In cases where programs also serve children ages 0 – 3 there should be additional investment so that families can find care for all children under the age of 5 in the same program. A free, universal system of care for preschool age children should not pull those children from existing child care programs to be cared for in a single preschool-focused system making it difficult for families with multiple children to get their care needs met in one place. Child care for infants and toddlers is more expensive to provide and is already the most difficult to find. Removing “preschool” to another system of delivery will further erode access to 0 – 3 care because preschool income frequently subsidizes 0 – 3 financial losses.
Additionally, many child care small businesses are owned and directed by women of color. These small businesses are often sources of essential support to working parents in their communities. Pulling preschool-aged children from these licensed programs to a new, free system would devastate these small businesses, causing unintended harm to a BiPOC economic sector that has already experienced a disproportionate share of economic losses due to the pandemic.
A majority of Washington’s child care programs have stayed open to provide care to frontline workers during the pandemic; we cannot leave them behind if a free universal preschool option results in moving the children they care for to another program. We welcome investments and actions that will allow America to increasingly become a country where all children and families are valued and provided with the opportunities that meet their real-life challenges of balancing work and family life.